If students are to comprehend what they read, they have to understand the meaning of the words used in the text. Teachers, therefore, should explicitly teach students the words they need to know if they are to truly grasp the content of a story. Take the word “dinghy,” for example. Students may need to be informed before they start reading that this word is a synonym for “boat.” The concept of “boat” would most likely be within the student’s background knowledge, so explaining the new term by sharing its synonym is a relatively easy way to assure student understanding. Without direct instruction in words such as these, students are unlikely to add them to their vocabularies especially if they do not live in an area where these words are commonly understood and used on a regular basis.
We should also teach important terms for content-area classes. There may be words that students do not have in their working vocabularies–such as photosynthesis or mitosis–that they would need to know in order to comprehend the subject matter being presented.
Other words that should be explicitly taught are those that have multiple meanings, such as “bank.” The student would need to understand that the term could refer to a financial institution, a curve in the road with a certain slope, or the side of a river, depending on context. While we do need to explicitly teach vocabulary to our words, one of the LEAST effective ways of doing this is to ask students to look up words in a dictionary or simply write down the definitions of various words. We know from research that students need to be exposed to a word on multiple occasions before they will be able to add this word to the lexicons in their heads. Help your students improve and expand their vocabularies by using games that add some excitement and fun to vocabulary learning.